Equal pay

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(HOST) Do you suspect that you’re being underpaid in your job? Commentator Cheryl Hanna discusses a new law in Vermont that might help you find out.

(HANNA) Suppose you land a dream job in a great company. Your career is buzzing along – you’re getting good performance reviews and regular promotions. Then, one day, a friend who works in accounting tells you that you’re making far less than the men who have the same job as you do. You’re afraid to check with your male colleagues because the corporate culture is to keep that information to yourself.

So you directly ask your boss that you be paid the same as the men. He refuses, suggesting that you and the men aren’t really doing the same job, even though you all have the same title and position. This doesn’t seem right to you, so you speak with a lawyer. In the meantime, your boss gets wind that you’re seeking legal advice. When you show up for work the next day, you’re told to clean out your desk and are escorted to the front door. It’s the most humiliating experience of your professional career.

This is what happened to Gloria, a Vermonter who shared with me her story of how her company retaliated against her for inquiring about being fairly paid. And she’s not alone. There are many Ver- monters who are fired, demoted or disciplined for discussing their wages in the workplace.

Under a new Vermont law that went into effect last month, those workers will now have far better legal recourse than did Gloria. House Bill 72 makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against their workers for discussing their wages. It also makes it illegal for employers to include a clause in the personnel manual dictating that workers cannot discuss wages, and then force workers to sign the document.

Both Vermont and the Federal government prohibit employers from paying women less than men for doing the same job under the same conditions. The problem was how did you know you were being paid less? Talking about how much you make is still con- sidered bad manners, if not taboo. This culture of secrecy made it extremely difficult for women to know if they were victims of wage discrimination.

Thus, despite equal pay laws, women still earn about 20 percent less than men. Over a working lifetime, this wage disparity costs the average American woman and her family an estimated $523,000 in lost wages.

One of the reasons for the lingering wage gap is that women aren’t always as assertive as men in demanding fair pay. The new law will hopefully give women more confidence to inquire about their wages without fear of retaliation. And if they are retaliated against, it’s now much easier to sue. Most importantly, the law sends a clear message that wage discrimination has no business in the Vermont economy.

This Cheryl Hanna.

Related Link:
Vermont Commission on Women

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

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